Photo by Dan Siney
FORZA MOTORSPORT 3
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Forza Motorsport 3 really is quite good, in a lot of clever ways. Once again I am reminded that I like a good racing game, even though I hardly ever play them. You’d think, given the number of racing games I’ve reviewed at this point, I’d have learned by now, but I guess not.
It’s visually stunning, of course—that’s a requirement for all Big Franchise Releases, as this one is. Microsoft seems to be setting up Forza Motorsport 3 as the Xbox 360 exclusive competitor to next year’s Gran Turismo 5 for the PlayStation 3, so it’s beautiful. But it doesn’t really gain any points for beauty.
What it does gain points for is being the first racing game I’ve played in a long time that actually makes an effort to make me better at racing games. It does this by providing a lot of supplementary information on easy mode, instead of just doing easy mode by making the other cars suck at driving.
If you tell it to, the game will draw a line along the course you’re taking that will show you the best route through it—when you should be close to the edge, when you should start turning into the upcoming corner, etc. The line changes color according to your speed: from green if you should be accelerating to yellow and then red if you should be slowing down. I’ve always known that the key to racing is knowing when to slow down and how to take the corners, but FM3 just shows me where the damn line is. You can turn it off if you don’t want easy mode, but playing with it on has made me a visibly better racer than I was before I started.
Also, the game includes a rewind function. Just hit the back button at any time, on any difficulty level, to rewind the race a couple of seconds. Took a corner wrong? Went into a group of cars unwisely and got knocked around and spun out? Try again! You don’t have to avail yourself of this, but I found it invaluable as a learning tool, because if a specific thing was causing me problems, I could just try that specific situation again instead of waiting awhile until a similar situation comes up. Self-identifying hard-core gamers may scoff at these features and those who use them, but I appreciate a game that actually makes an effort to teach me how to play it.
Oh, and it’s got nice damage modeling and a paint-shop feature that lets you create custom decals of astounding detail if you want to put a lot of work into it.
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
I really didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did.
It seems humanity had high hopes for the planet Pandora. It had a livable atmosphere and evidence of alien occupation somewhere in the past. The planet was colonized and then everyone realized it was a complete shithole, with no natural resources and no useful artifacts. Everyone left who could afford to, and now Pandora’s only inhabitants are poor yokels and roving gangs… and you, one of four playable characters, searching for a mythical vault that maybe really is full of valuable alien technology.
In play, it’s basically Diablo II as an FPS. You choose your character, and then you start shooting dudes, beginning with low-level bandits and predatory alien wildlife, and working your way up to more organized mercenaries and such. As you shoot dudes, you will level up, which gives you skill points to put into different skill trees depending on which character you chose—Roland, the soldier; Mordecai, the hunter; Lilith, the siren, and Brick, the, uh, brick. I chose the siren because turning invisible in a big explosion that lights everyone nearby on fire and then being able to run around damaging everybody around me while I regenerate health during the invisibility seemed like fun to me. Also, as you gain levels you gain access to a variety of different guns—there are seven gun types and several million possible actual guns because they randomly generate. You can have a pistol that zooms in like a sniper rifle and sets anyone it shoots on fire or grenades that teleport to their targets.
A lot of the game’s charm comes from its presentation. The graphics have a really interesting style, where everything is sort of cel-shaded a bit like Ubisoft’s most recent Prince of Persia game, if Prince of Persia were bent on evoking Mad Max. And it’s frequently funny as hell, from “…and starring Brick as himself” to the first boss’s intro screen, which I won’t ruin for you.
There’s also an online feature where you can play with your friends and the enemies get tougher but drop better loot, but I didn’t really explore that.
Anyway. Solid game, and recommended.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Tekken 6 is the latest installment of the popular Tekken fighting series (duh). Like almost all fighting games, the story line is ridiculous—it’s an elaborate justification to throw a bunch of different sorts of fighters together. Tekken is notable for including a lot of Special Forces dudes, thugs, and gangsters, plus a martial artist grizzly bear, a boxing kangaroo, and a cybernetic ninja whose signature move is suicide (no, really). It doesn’t have a lot of regular ninjas or sorcerers. Expect leather jackets and grimaces. This one also includes a really elaborate costume-customization system.
How is it? Well, it’s basically the same game it’s been for the past ten years—a lot of the specific mechanics have changed over time, but the overall design philosophy has stayed consistent. Tekken is about fighting styles that evoke real-world fighting styles without accurately portraying them, long juggle combos, throws and counterthrows, and knowing which buttons to press when you get knocked down so you’ll pop up in a manner that’s to your advantage. Tekken 6 seems basically to succeed at these design goals. I’m not nearly as interested in 3-D fighters as I am in 2-D fighters, because learning 2-D fighters usually involves learning a couple dozen moves that all look very different, while learning 3-D fighters involves learning a couple hundred moves that all look very similar. But there you go.
There are basically two big problems I can think of, aside from the general problem I have with 3-D fighters:
First, the costume-customization system is tied to a sort of story mode where you run around various open environments and fight hordes of weak enemies. The beat-’em-up game play is different enough from normal Tekken to require a new skill set, it isn’t very fun, and you need to do it in order to get meaningful costume customization, which is fun. I know this sort of play mode is all the rage right now among 3-D fighter designers, but I wish they’d knock it off and just give me the character creator.
Second, the net code is bad. Online matches are laggy. Button inputs are delayed. On the other hand, none of the other current net-capable 3-D fighters have great net code either, so I guess that’s a wash. Just, you know, get this one if you can expect to play it with other people in the same room.